MORGAN: It’s easy to consume media passively. We have widely accessible entertainment at our fingertips 24/7. You can stream an album on Spotify while riding the train, watch a new comedy special on Netflix while lying in bed, listen to podcasts while doing the dishes, running on the treadmill, driving, or whatever else all you listeners may be doing right now.
But for the artists behind this media, the work they put in is far from passive. Emotional hardships becomes the heart wrenching refrain, childhood soundtracks become the inspiration for the next beat, and daily frustrations become a killer punchline.
The people we’re featuring today fall on pretty different places on the spectrum. Their stories range, as does their art, but they’re all worth a listen.
Starting us off today is Hannah Thomas with a story about a metal band from Omaha, Nebraska. Yes, you heard that right.
HANNAH: When people think of metal music, they tend to think of the coasts or big music cities like Atlanta or LA and the Midwest tends to fall into the wayside- unless, of course, you’re talking about Slipknot. Despite this lack of awareness, the Midwest metal community continues to thrive and grow.
SORENSON: I think the Midwest has a pretty good scene, you just have to go out and find it.
HANNAH: And find it he did- Sean Sorensen has been performing in Omaha for years, most recently with local band Devil in the Details, a Slipknot inspired metal band that’s been around since 2014. Originally a five-piece band, Devil in the Details has been through a couple minor line-up changes, but their name continues to shine a light on their purpose.
SORENSON: You never know what people are going through in their life, good or bad, or what’s going on behind the curtain. There’s always going to be a devil in the details in somebody’s life.
HANNAH: Metal music as a whole tends to focus on the pain that comes from wrestling with mental health and this awareness of struggle is something Devil in the Details pulls from for their music. They want to share their pain with the listener
SORENSON: For me, when they hear the instruments, I just want them to be like- not necessarily blown away, but I want them to get goosebumps for sure. I want them to be like wow, that sounded really good together. And then when they hear the lyrics, I just want them to understand what we’ve been through. And for people to know, like, you’re okay. I’m okay. We’re going through this together. We’re gonna make it out.
HANNAH: Last year, Devil in the Details launched a campaign focusing very specifically on the theme of mental health with their song “Hello Depression.” In addition to the song, which talks about what it can feel like when depression becomes too much to handle on your own, they also launched a website hellodepression.com where fans could anonymously post about their own experiences with depression and vent about their struggles. The website is currently down for maintenance, but will be republished with their next album, which they are recording this year.
For this next album, Devil in the Details have pulled sonic influences from their musical idols.
SORENSON: Like, our influences are anywhere from, like, Slipknot to Underoath to Architects to A Day to Remember, but then, like, we also love the Eagles.
SORENSON: And our new album really touches- we really just go back to the roots, of like, the music that we love. And focus a lot on, like, harmonies and just the structure of the song. Like, the Eagles were really big into harmonies, that was their thing. So we made that a big thing for us now. But then it’s like, it’s super heavy still. We still have our nice heavy Architects / Underoath breakdowns that you can just throw down to. But then we’ve added a lot of soft parts that makes our music very dynamic. So, it’s kind of like a soundtrack to a sad life.
HANNAH: The band has been in pre-production on the album for about a year, perfecting everything from lyrics to guitar solos. They’re expecting to release the album in late 2019 or early 2020.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re taking a break until the release. Touring is a big part of any musician’s life, and Devil in the Details is no different.
SORENSON: Touring and traveling and meeting people outside of Omaha has taught us easier and faster ways to create music outside of our heads, where we don’t need to rely on a whole band to get it done. We really just rely on ourselves to write it and then we get a lot more done I feel like. So I would say the Midwest taught us our style.
HANNAH: Devil in the Details tour all over the Midwest, focusing on Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota. But above everything they love performing in Omaha.
SORENSON: There’s just nothing like playing your hometown.
HANNAH: Even though the metal scene in the Midwest is growing, Sorensen wants to see the music community come together even more.
SORENSON : I just want to see more people come out to shows.
SORENSON : A lot of people, just, when they hear that it’s a local band, they don’t want to go just because they hear it’s a local band. And it’s hard for people to get past the first step of hearing the name “local band,” but a lot of times when you listen to that local band, they’re pretty solid, and they could be something big if you and other people listen to them.
HANNAH: You can hear Devil in the Details on Spotify or see them live on May 4 in Omaha as they set out on a summer tour with West Coast bands Osatia and Anever.
MORGAN: Our next artist has also pursued her music in the no-coast region, a region that’s equally unexpected for her genre: rap. But Colo Chanel knows how to connect with her audience. She always lets the crowd know they’re at a 2 when she needs them at a ten.
Ayana Anderson sat down with the performer to get more of her story.
AYANA: Colo Channel has taken the Midwest by storm. Having only been in the industry for less than two years, her music has been listened to over 5,000 times on soundcloud and other music streaming platforms. Colo started her music career in a group called Wayv. That group gave her the springboard to start her solo career.
COLO: Um, so I was in a music group, is a hip hop music group. We were called, We Are the Young Visionaries. Um, it was myself, um, space Shaka, um, Bow, easy. Yeah, it was us and flex. So we were in music group and as a hip hop musical flex was a singer. Everybody else kinda rapped. Um, so being around them kind of helped. um, being around my brother, Javion kind helped alot. Um, just listening to a lot of music helped and not just like hip hop music or like trap music. I listened to like my mom, she’s a music head too um, she listened to a lot of like India Arie she lets him to, I need a Anita baker and stuff like that.
AYANA: Colo is inspired by a variety of music. From singing in the church choir, to listening to local artists, and discovering poetry, Colo’s diverse interests have all contributed to her unique sound.
COLO: So, um, I come from a very musical family, so like, um, like I said, I grew up in Saint Louis at one point in time, so like we used to do, uh, my grandpa was a pastor too, and St Louis. And so like, we used to do Christmas at in St Louis and so every year like my family would get together and like they were sing for Christmas, you know, I like this different, like, you know, church even say whatever. So like I kinda started there. Um, I sung in the choir growing up, so my mom was like the choir director and then she did TV and radio personality at that time too.
She took me on my little cousin to listen to a party in St Louis. I like the studio or whatever. Um, I just kinda like it started from there, you know, so I got to see like a lot of, I got to see like seeing here a lot of like different musical backgrounds and like different experiences from Gospel to R and B hip hop, you know, and my mom showed me, you know, all that, you know.
I’ve been writing since I was younger. Um, I started doing spoken word my eighth-grade year before I moved here to Des Moines. I did like a little poem at the talent show. It’s somewhere on Facebook, but I did a little poem at the talent show. And then like, ever since then, like people was like, you know, you should really like, you know, keep doing poetry, you know, you do music. And I was like, Nah, you know, I want to do music really. You know, I write poetry, I used to do music, but you know, so I went through that phase with poetry. Um, and actually I did spoken word here when I moved here and I started doing it when I was 15 with movement 515. And then junior year when I started getting into music, um, I wrote my first song called Miles that I wrote. Uh, and uh, I had flex and space on it. It was when I was in Wayv with them and we performed it at the first annual movement five one five. So my FamJam, which is like a little like show that they had, you know, uh, showcasing local talent, you know, different stuff like that. And then like they have like a headliner performance.
AYANA: Since that first song, Colo has produced 6 songs Such as Colotime, Selfish, and Bend it Ova. She’s also in the process of releasing her EP. While the release date has not yet been revealed. Colo hosted a listening party Saturday March 30th to give her fans a taste of her new music. As many Rap enthusiasts know, each region—East, West, and South —have their own unique sound. Many times, you can name where an artist comes from just by listening to their beats, rhythms, and rhymes. The North Midwest sound is not as clearly defined as other regions.
Colo’s makeup artist, Savannah Bruce, weighed in on the Midwest sound.
SAVANNAH: I was going to say something more like, I feel like the Midwest, it’s kind of more creative since we can’t bite off other people. Like every, every part has a whole little bang. Right. And we kind of just take from all that and do what we do. Think about it. Who came? Kanye came from Chicago, but like stuff like that. Like, yeah. Yeah. Most definitely. Yeah. So yeah.
COLO: so I guess a mid-Westerners are very, like they can be straight forward too. And so, I think my music is very straight forward. I try to be like direct and what I say. Yeah.
AYANA: Colo’s sound is also influenced by her identity. Being a female Emcee provides challenges that male Emcee’s don’t necessarily face.
COLO: Who what is different man? Everything. It’s different. I’m not everything but like, I feel like as a female, like you really have to feel part of it like 10 times harder because first of all, you’re a female, you know, and like this industry is, you know, male dominated, you know, its testosterone ran literally, you know, we’re in this testosterone industry, you know, they’re gonna look at you like, first of all, what are you doing here? And second of all, if you do want to be here, I hope you’re coming to harder. Then some of them that are already here, you know? So it was just kind of like having a hide yourself and your music at a standard to where like, you know, you got to, you know, produce your best work and really give your best
AYANA: Colo believes that Rap is supposed to be purposeful and impactful. Determining the purpose of her music is something that Colo does regularly to keep herself on track.
COLO: Well me and my brothers had this conversation a lot, you know about like music and like purpose, like your purpose in your life. And uh, one thing that, like we always say it’s like pain is universal. So like, you know, everybody was like experienced pain at least once in their life or like at some point in their life or it’s going to experience it. So I like, you know, at some point in their life, so like I know like I have a story to tell. So I think like that’s kind of like what I tried to stick to is that like you have to, like, everybody has their own story, you know, everybody don’t come from, you know, the same walk of life. So I feel like I have a different story to tell.
AYANA: Colo has used music, specifically rap, to express herself and share her story. Her career and impact on listeners will continue to grow with the release of her EP.
COLO: Following me on social media, you know, to stay updated on my EP and when it’s dropping music videos, um, show dates, all that good stuff, you know? Uh, so yeah, let me get this one.
MORGAN: As Colo Chanel can attest to, being a woman in entertainment can require a certain kind of labor to get people to show up and listen. And most women comedians can relate.
Jordin Wilson talked to a couple of these women to hear their stories, and learn how they found their stage.
JORDIN: Behind every bellowing laugh, there is an even greater, hilarious comedian. Onalee Kelley and Lael 0’Shaunghnessy are two of them. And they happen to be women. While comedy has been and still is a pre-dominantly male industry, things are slowly but surely beginning to change.
As spectators, we have seen first hand that women comedians can act, write, perform and direct stand-up, just as well as men can. Breaking down these stereotypes and getting comfortable in their own comical ways, are just a few things that Onalee and Lael do best.
Women are stepping up to the plate and making a difference in the comedy career. The gender gap is closing, one-woman comedian at a time. Onalee Kelley, a member of the comedy group CHOWDOWN, began at Colgate College in New York as an English major. With no real plans to become a comedian, her natural ability is impressive. She took an improv course her senior year, and the rest is history.
I was able to catch up with Onalee at Mistress Brewing Company after her show.
KELLEY: “When I moved back to Des Moines a couple years later, they had Last Laugh, which was a comedy club that is no longer in existence. It all just snowballed from there,” Kelley said.
JORDIN: Kelley started her stand-up career shortly after her gigs at Last Laugh in 2016. Kelley explained that stand-up was at its prime around this time. She described it as a gold mine that led her to open mic nights, which she also really enjoys. The radio show that she participated in college helped her to be confident and speak loud and proud at open mic nights. The comedic process does not have to be regimented, and Kelley’s path that led her to comedy was certainly not that.
KELLEY: “Sometimes I’ve been on shows, and I’m wondering if I’m just on the show because I’m a woman. I’m one of the few women that are arguing stand-up here in Des Moines,” Kelley said.
JORDIN: Kelley does bring up a valid question. Do comedy clubs book solely for talent, or do they look to book varied genders and ethnicities within comedians to acquire more customers and larger crowds, and in return make more money.
Kelley joined a comedy group that performed in multiple comedy clubs around the Midwest region. The group called CHOWDOWN is a male and female comedy group with around 4-6 people in it at a time. After her experiences in CHOWDOWN and prior to, Kelley says that she prefers Improv to Stand-Up.
KELLEY: “I joke because, some Stand-Up comedians say I’m better at Improv, and some improvisers say that I’m better at standup, which basically just means like oh so I suck,” Kelley says jokingly.
JORDIN: On a more serious note, Kelleyreminds us that a lot of comedians only do one form of comedy, so it’s a challenge to do both. The difference between the two is that improv takes a lot more practice; because you have to be comfortable with the people you are doing improv with, so it flows and at least seems natural to those observing.
Stand-up comedy is usually by yourself and can be recreated if you get a positive reaction out of the audience. Lael O’ Shaunghnessy, a female comedian based out of Chicago, says that her go-to will always be stand-up because it’s fun and convenient.
SHAUGNESSY: “Right now I pretty much am exclusively doing stand-up, but I do like writing and I try to write essays. I am less disciplined about it because with stand-up, I can just get to a bar and do it,”Shaungnessy said with a smile.
JORDIN: With stand up, you can really curate those laughs.
SHAUGNESSY: “I definitely draw from my own life a lot, which is like easy, because you live and are going to find stuff to write about. It becomes one of those things where it is my life and I’m manipulating the worst parts of myself, so there’s something icky about it,” Shaungnessy said laughing.
JORDIN: Although, at times, both Kelley and Shaunghnessy says that they will get heckled at more when they are doing stand-up since she they are alone and not in a group setting.
She goes on to explain that it’s just something you have to deflect when you’re in comedy. Which, should not have to be the case. Although, there might be a “norm” when thinking about the classic comedian, generally a white male around his 30’s to 40’s, it is important to keep in mind that having a variety of cultural backgrounds and genders makes comedy more relatable and more appealing to a larger audience.
KELLEY: Especially in improv, once you have a more diverse thought, as well as a diverse gender and diverse race, it’s always good to have that on stage, because you can talk about more,” Kelley said.
JORDIN: Shaughnessy says that comedy is like a rollercoaster of emotions. She adds that the politics of comedy can come into play often, especially when it comes to gender. It is just another thing you have to ignore as a comedian.
She did one segment on a comedy segment called Laugh Factory, that received some negative feedback.
SHAUGNESSY: “I posted one clip and then I posted a second one. And on the second one I said the word vagina, and the negative comments we’re like so freaking crazy. Just by saying the word vagina,” she explained.
JORDIN: With just one word, Shaugnessy believes you can create a stigma around your Comedy style as a woman.
Shaunghnessy has a male comedian friend who did a segment about rough sex just days later on Laugh Factory. He did not get quite the same reaction as she did.
SHAUGNESSY: “There’s literally a clip with a guy I know, a friend of mine, who’s like talking about rough sex and he’s a dude and everyone’s like, This guy! Where does this guy play? I literally say the word vagina and I will never stop, and I’m just a classic female comedian who never stops talking about my pussy,” Shaughnessy said with a laugh. Time: 11:45
JORDIN: She has had men that have even started coming at her personal life on her personal social media accounts.
SHAUGNESSY: “That stuff is a very real manifestation of internalized, men’s internalized hatred towards women,” she says. Time: 13:03
JORDIN: Comedy is no walk in the park. Not just anyone can do it, and it takes a real and brave woman to step up to the plate and show what they’re made of. This is especially important in an industry that is influenced and monopolized by men.
Like it or not, women in comedy are here to stay.
Everywhere in Between Graphic by Mia Tirado.